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Guest Voice: Long-term Change Takes Real-time Data

Guest Voice by Sarah Gillespie and Mary Bogle from the Urban Institute.

President Obama has said it many times: a child’s course in life should not be determined by the zip code in which he or she is born.

In keeping with that philosophy, the Obama administration has invested millions of federal dollars in initiatives designed to interrupt the status quo for communities facing seemingly intractable challenges, such as failing education systems and growing crime and violence. These place-based initiatives, like Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods, seek to raise the quality of life for all residents.

These initiatives measure success by indicators that speak to community-wide conditions, like high school graduation rates and crime rates. Measuring success at this level is important; it holds initiatives accountable for improving the whole community, not just certain neighborhoods or particular schools.

On-Time Graduation Rate by School District

Community Commons addition: Click this map to explore on-time graduation rate for your school district.

But change at this level also takes time — 5, 10, or even 15 years. People implementing the programs and policies that drive this change are focused on long-term results but must use real-time data to direct their work. Sometimes called case management data, these real-time data are generated by tracking the people directly served by community programs, the types of services provided, and the ways people are better off (or not) after participating.

Using these data helps answer important questions, like whether those who need the programs the most actually participate and whether programs produce the intended positive outcomes. It’s a real-time reality check on whether the day-to-day work on programs and policies will lead to long-term community change. Answering these questions regularly is the foundation of a performance measurement or continuous quality improvement process. Without these data and a process to use data, communities risk facing the same challenges year after year without knowing why things aren’t improving.

To help initiatives start collecting and using the data needed to achieve results, we created a brief virtual training video that explains the concept in more detail and demonstrates the process with a specific example.

We hope this video is useful to communities engaged in this work. For more information and examples, download the accompanying guidance on using case management data to improve community change initiatives.

Changing communities is complex work, but it doesn’t have to be done in the dark. Real-time case management data can direct the best path forward.

gillespie-sarah_7Sarah Gillespie is a research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where her research focuses on place-based initiatives and community development as well as technical assistance for performance measurement and evaluation. She manages technical assistance efforts to support implementation grantees of the US Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative and the national evaluation of the Administration for Children Youth and Families Partnership to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System. She is also involved in other research in Washington, DC, and communities throughout the country.

Before joining Urban, Gillespie worked as a program manager at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she focused on public-private partnerships and innovative investment models. She holds a BA from Vanderbilt University and an MPA from American University.

bogle-mary_6Mary Bogle is a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Her research focuses on policies and place-based interventions which help poor parents overcome economic, equity, and mental health challenges that interfere with their efforts to create healthy, productive, and safe environments for their children. Bogle is the principal investigator for a feasibility study for a two-generation school wraparound model in Washington, DC, as well as for the final report of the Ascend two-generation outcomes work group. She wrote a technical assistance guide for US Department of Education Promise Neighborhood grantees on how to use case management data to improve performance. She develops the infrastructure and research design for the Housing Opportunities and Services Together (HOST) network.

Bogle is the former principal of Bogle Consulting, LLC, which assisted nonprofit, government, and foundation clients to plan, implement, and evaluate programs and policies that benefit low-income children and families.

Bogle has worked for street-level organizations, served as the executive director of Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families, and led the planning effort for the Washington, DC Promise Neighborhood initiative. She also worked as a program specialist for the federal Head Start Bureau, where she played a pivotal role in designing and launching Early Head Start, the premier federal initiative for low-income families with infants and toddlers. She coedited Beacon of Hope: The Promise of Early Head Start for America’s Youngest Children.

Community Commons does not necessarily support the views of our guest bloggers but we support civil dialog.

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